Emotions are contagious. Learn 5 practical techniques to evolve from reactive to responsive and position yourself as a strategic leader.
A product manager is constantly balancing expectations from the business, the team, and users. It’s a tough and often thankless job, and it can feel a bit lonely, since there is usually only of you working on a product or development team. You might feel that you are doing all the right things, but that other people are just not responding positively. Instead of just believe you are not getting the best results from your team, or even your stakeholders, you might benefit from taking a deeper look at yourself, and improving your emotional intelligence. By investing in yourself with the 5 self-awareness practices in this article, you will start to understand your strengths as well as your triggers, and you will learn techniques to grow your emotional EQ.
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to be aware of how your thoughts, speech, and actions impact others. I’ve heard it described as the “unique intersection between head and heart.” Your Emotional EQ is the ability to use this awareness to self-manage your emotions and cognitive thought. In practice, it’s a combination of using impulse control and social awareness to moderate your behavior and relationships.
The following 5 tips to increase your Emotional EQ are inspired from Scott Watson’s work, an emotional intelligence speaker and trainer with a focus on education. I hope they will complement what you are already doing well and help you create an actionable plan to improve your emotional intelligence and the emotional climate in your team. You might find that focusing on how your behavior is impacting others can change your relationships, and positively impact your career.
1. Become aware of the emotion you are transmitting
As I interact with product managers, I often hear the same pattern of the day-to-day pains: the feeling of getting buffeted around by their schedules like a boat in a storm. There’s no rhythm to their day; there’s no breathing room, and therefore no thinking room. They are often going from meeting to meeting, and most likely are bringing the baggage from every previous interaction of the day to the team.
Emotions are contagious. If you enter into an interaction with your team focused on all the tasks you are balancing, you will transmit your stress and anxiety to them. And once they pick up on your stress or worry, they will not be focusing on innovation, problem solving, and positive interactions with each other, customers, or stakeholders.
Before heading into any team event, center yourself. Reserve 15 minutes on your calendar before each major planning or review so you can be calm, centered, and focused. During this time, consider the goals and direction you want to transmit as the product leader. Let the previous interactions fade. You can return later to your to-do list. The time you give yourself will reap rewards in your ability to present yourself in the manner you aspire to, and to better connect with your team.
Pause here and write down 3 things you are prepared to do in order to attend your team events relaxed, calm, and focused. They should be meaningful to you, easy to apply and practical to use.
2. Intentionally set the desired emotional temperature
As you prepare for the next discussion, ask yourself what emotional climate would be the most productive for the task at hand? Learn to enter each interaction with your team with a specific intent to adjust the climate by exhibiting positive behavior with a difficult person, excitement about a new feature, or just better personal interactions overall.
A way to improve here is to ask yourself a few questions as you prepare for the next interaction you will have with a user, stakeholder or your team. This practice is better accomplished with ‘How’ and ‘What’ questions rather than ‘Why’ questions.
- What are two things I can do to increase the interest in the team to perform as optimally as possible on a consistent basis?
- What are two things the team wants to know about the user to understand their pain points and ultimately create innovative solutions?
- How can I learn from my team during this feature?
- How could we all enjoy this event more?
Pause now and write down three questions you can ask yourself before entering into the next interaction.
Consider entering these questions as reminders in your phone to prompt yourself throughout the day of your commitment to boosting your emotional intelligence.
3. Yes, words matter — and so does voice!
We spend all day behind our face. We don’t get to see what our team sees. In addition, we are not always aware of what their body language is telling us. This is even harder with remote work. If we are on-camera, we humans have a tendency to watch ourselves, instead of the others. Many people prefer to stay off camera, which can make it even more difficult. (This could be a separate topic that you bring up with your teams to improve collaboration by simulating face-to-face conversations.)
It is difficult to be constantly aware of all the ways we can impact the team with the language we use or our own facial expressions. Positive language is transformational and reinforces learning. But your messaging must be authentic. If you are working with a difficult customer, stakeholder, or team, this behavior change may require stringent self-evaluation and accountability. The good news is that you can learn to replace negative scripts with positive, solution oriented approaches.
As an accountability technique, ask a trusted member of the team to support you by giving you immediate feedback after the event. I’ve used this consistently in my coaching career to soften my delivery and become more aware of the impact my language and tone of voice has on others. My accountability partner helps me identify better ways to phrase things and bring attention to my body language and facial expressions, as well as the body language in the room or on camera. Having a personal feedback session directly after an event helped me grow my own awareness and change my behavior.
Write down three negative phrases you know you have said about clients, stakeholders, or the organization you work for. Take your time, and find three authentic things to replace those phrases with.
If you find yourself slipping into negative behavior, remember that tomorrow is a new day. This is a difficult behavior to break and will take time, attention, self-reflection, and accountability.
4. Give specific feedback to help reinforce expectations
How can feedback improve your emotional EQ? Everyone wants feedback. And you may feel you already give good feedback. But can you go further, and in the meantime, see what kind of boost this gives to your pool of shared understanding. Consider the last time you used a phrase like “well done,” or “good job,” or an email with an emoticon at the end. These are certainly positive phrases, but this feedback doesn’t help the team grow. And too much may feel like a false compliment or a hollow statement. While it is important to give positive feedback, if you want to really connect, practice giving specifics.
An easy way to do this is to add a description to the comment that adds value. As an example, imagine leaving a great demo with stakeholders. You are about to send a cute meme with a high-five to everyone in the communication channel. Pause here — what made this review fantastic? Take some time to describe 2 or 3 points that really stood out and send the specifics. Over time, the team will build a better understanding of your expectations and you will have created meaningful connections that highlights positive behaviors.
If you are in the uncomfortable position of having to deliver missed expectations, clarity of the messaging is just as important. If you are in this position, it is very important not to send mixed messages. One self-awareness technique is to ask others close to you if you have a tendency to smile while delivering negative news. What does this tell the receiver of the message? How would this affect the perception of your authenticity over time?
Pause here and think back to your last three reviews and retrospectives. Write down the answers to: What was the feedback that I gave my team? How could I have improved my feedback to make it more meaningful and actionable?
5. Messaging the plan as well as the learning
Pre-framing and reviewing are common techniques in education. The pre-frame creates meaning and excitement of what a class is going to be learning. A review helps reinforce learning. These two ideas work just as well in a software development environment as they do in the classroom.
Pre-framing is the idea that we discuss what we will be doing in advance, so that when it is time to do the work, our brains are already engaged. Translate this concept to the value of discussing the next feature to your team in a refinement session. And remember, it is not just what you say but how you say it…. Make it exciting. Bring it to life. Ask a user to come into the team to demonstrate how difficult a particular transaction is so the team can brainstorm solutions together. If it is a new product, you can build interest by sharing why the organization has decided to invest in this feature — what is the competition doing? How do you expect this to improve your competitive advantage? Develop meaningful, measurable goals for the feature together as a team to elevate buy-in.
When the feature is complete, go beyond the usual demo to specifically review what you have learned as a team. Discuss at least two things the team learned about the user while developing this feature. If they start to focus on the technical aspect, help re-direct them to things they have learned about the user. If they can’t, perhaps this is an opportunity for you, as a product manager, to help close the gap between the user and the team.
Pre-framing and learning can help you position yourself as a strategic leader who is connected to the greater organizational outcomes.
Take a minute here to think of your next upcoming feature. Write down 3 selling points that you can use to develop some excitement and intrigue.
You may consider keeping a work journal so that you can mark your progress over time and celebrate your wins.This will give validation to the habits you are creating and the self-awareness you are building.
At the end of the day, ask yourself: What 3 things have gone well today and why is that?
If you are consistently seeing success, share your tips with other Product leaders through your Community of Practice or a local user group to reinforce your new behaviors.
As you start to take risks with your team, they may follow your lead and show their vulnerability as well. This is a great opportunity to work hand-in-hand with other leads, such as technical managers, Agile Coaches, or Scrum Masters, so that together you can further a safe and enriching environment that helps you and your teams thrive. Check out my blog for tips for Scrum Masters.
The more you enjoy your role as a product manager, the more your team will enjoy working with you! I hope these tips help create success with your team and that you have some fun increasing your own emotional intelligence.
I’m interested to know… what will you do differently as a result of reading these 5 tips?
Live your truth; hone your craft; show your thanks
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